Overcriminalization Goes to the Supreme Court

Ahead of oral arguments in U.S. v. Yates, legal experts demand an end to the proliferation of thousands of capricious federal statutory crimes

Austin, TX— In the run-up to the Supreme Court’s hearing of oral arguments in U.S. v. Yates, Right on Crime, the nationally recognized conservative criminal justice reform organization, will convene a briefing on over-criminalization and prosecutorial overreach.

In this case, a Florida law enforcement officer (deputized as a federal officer by the National Marine Fisheries Service) boarded the ship of a commercial fisherman, John Yates, for an inspection of his catch of more than 3,000 fish. The officer accused Yates of catching 72 undersized red grouper. Upon second count, however, the officer only found 69 groupers. He accused Yates of throwing fish overboard, and for this alleged disposal of evidence, a federal prosecutor criminally charged Yates with violating the “anti-document-shredding” provision of the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which was passed in the wake of the 2001 Enron accounting scandal. The violation is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

The assembled legal experts will discuss solutions to prosecutorial overreach of this sort, such as strengthening mens rea protections in statutes and eliminating certain crimes altogether.

Right On Crime’s parent organization, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, signed an amicus brief in Yates observing that the prosecutorial overreach in the case is part of a larger trend of over-criminalization in America. Modern federal criminal law provides for almost 5,000 crimes. Historically, “crime” was a term restricted to morally blameworthy actions, but today, many ordinary activities are captured by the term. Individuals have been threatened with prosecution (and in some cases served prison time) for importing lobsters in the wrong container, mislabeling paperwork on orchids, and helping injured animals.
 
Press Briefing on Over-criminalization and U.S. v. Yates, featuring:

  • Marc Levin, Policy Director, Right on Crime
  • Vikrant P. Reddy, Senior Policy Analyst, Right on Crime
  • Adeel Bashir, Counsel for Mr. John Yates
  • William Shepherd, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
  • Paul J. Larkin, Jr., The Heritage Foundation
  • Pat Nolan, The American Conservative Union

 

Monday, November 3, 2014 at 1:30 PM

American Conservative Union
1331 H Street, NW |  Suite 500
Washington, DC

This event is sponsored by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, the American Conservative Union, the Heritage Foundation and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact Kevin McVicker with Shirley & Banister Public Affairs at (703) 739-5920 or [email protected].

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Cutting Costs and Crime: Levin Quoted in New York Times

People across the country are beginning to wonder whether or not we are incarcerating ourselves out of an economy. After massive crackdowns on crime in the 90’s created hosts of stringent crimes and punishments, now millions of individuals find it almost impossible to get work. Criminal records, even for low-level non-violent offenses, can mean a life-time of rejection letters and welfare. But both sides of the table are beginning to realize this and are taking steps to mitigate it in the future. Right on Crime policy director Marc Levin was quoted in a New York Times article about the growth of conservatives’ awareness of the subject:

“There’s been a shift in people away from wanting to get even,” said Marc A. Levin, the policy director for Right on Crime, a conservative anti-crime group in Texas. “People are focused now on getting results. It really is a great benefit to public safety if ex-offenders are able to get jobs, find places to live and get occupational licenses — whether it’s from the perspective of the ex-offender or those of us who are going to live next to them.”

Read the article at the New York Times.

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Giving Kids Adult Records: Cohen and Fowler in the Dallas Morning News

The Dallas Morning News published a piece by Right on Crime policy analyst Derek Cohen and Deborah Fowler, deputy director for Texas Appleseed. They write that, despite large criminal justice reform waves sweeping across Texas, there is still one area where government over reach and inefficiency is apparent. Truancy, previously a minor misbehavior dealt with by parents and teachers, is today a crime that can earn a child an adult record. This process hurts the child, damages families, and has stunts economic growth. Handing out criminal records for behavior like truancy lowers the likelihood of the child getting a job and raises the likelihood of future welfare support.

Texas is one of only two states (the other is Wyoming) that employ the criminal justice system to punish truancy. The Texas Education Code — the body of law that regulates the activity of all educational institutions in the state — empowers school districts to file a criminal complaint against a child as young as 10 who has missed three days of school. After 10 missed days within a six-month period, however, the district’s discretion is removed and it is required to file against the child.

This is known as “Failure to Attend School,” or FTAS, a Class C misdemeanor that can carry up to $500 in fines and leave an indelible mark on the child’s criminal record. These fines are levied all too often on low-income families who don’t have the savings to pay them. If a child or parent is unable to pay the $500, or if the child misses one more day after adjudication, he or she can face jail time for the violation of a valid court order. In addition to the burden this places on families, the criminalization of truancy is a drain on limited court resources.

In addition, NBC News affiliate KXAN-Austin interviewed Cohen on the issue of truancy in Texas schools. Watch the clip below.

 

 

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Overcriminalization in America: No Home for Justice

All Jack and his wife Jill Barron wanted was a home near their family for retirement. After going through all of the necessary permitting, they purchased the land where they intended to build. But soon the EPA alleged that the land might be a wetland and began restricting building on the site. Eventually the EPA brought felony charges on Jack for bringing gravel on to his property. This sparked a legal fight that threatened Jack with federal prison.

After extensive legal fees and a great deal of time and stress on the part of the couple, a jury decided that the property had not been proved to be a wetland and found Jack not guilty. But the EPA continues to require Jack to restore the property to its original state, prohibiting his development. [Read more...]

This is the first of a series of films that looks at what happens in an overcriminalized society. A couple can lose their life savings in legal fights through overgrown bureaucracy.

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Pat Nolan: Fear of Crime and the Prison Build Up

Pat Nolan, Director of the Center for Criminal Justice Reform at the American Conservative Union Foundation and Right on Crime Director of Outreach, talks about how being a former legislator and having served time in prison has made it clear for him to see the bureaucracy within the criminal justice system. This is a driving factor in his passion for reform. Here, on The Vera Institute “Justice In Focus”, he shares his experience.

 

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